Utilities across the country are experimenting with various new ways to communicate with customers—from Twitter feeds to text alerts. But few utilities have figured out how to integrate new media...
Consensus building is an imperative and educational art form.
December 2008 to begin a six-month series of workshops. Participants included utilities, regulators, citizens, ratepayer advocates, vendors, consultants and retail energy providers. The process was kicked off with a four-hour “AMI 101” class to establish a common base of understanding by reviewing the current state of technology—its capabilities, risks, benefits, and the deployment and integration issues from the utility perspective.
Facilitation focused on three goals. The first was education, to provide a consistent working knowledge of AMI among all the participants. The second was to formally channel stakeholder input into ComEd’s planning process. In that regard, the sessions were used to surface what was important and not important to the various stakeholder communities. Also, workshops covered the process for selecting the geographic sites for the initial installations, and to design the testing program to benefit all parties. The third goal was to achieve alignment among the stakeholders on the basic direction of the AMI program.
In this context, facilitation wasn’t used to elicit consensus or unanimity of opinion. Rather, the facilitation fostered the concept of alignment; that is, a consistency of understanding and awareness of ComEd’s plans, intentions and motivations.
The launch followed a series of half-day workshops on key topics pertinent to AMI, including customer impacts, impacts on utility operations, and AMI’s role in demand management (DM) and energy efficiency. Attendance remained consistently strong at one workshop location and grew at another as word spread. Plus, a Web site was established to serve as a communications tool and a repository for all the project documents. The Web site afforded continuous engagement.
Among other things, the collaborative process involves inviting disparate viewpoints, even disagreement, and being open enough to hear the aired concerns, complaints, and misunderstandings. In the case of ComEd, the participants began with a healthy portion of skepticism, dissent and questioning of what ComEd was doing in this area, and why. As to be expected in this kind of environment, utilities are dealing with greatly varying knowledge about AMI technology, its benefits and its impacts on utility operations. And as in the APS case, many people had very little appreciation of the value of managing peak load or its economic implications. Facilitation afforded a very dynamic exchange at the outset that, with time and seasoning, coalesced into a plan. The sequencing of workshops helped build and sustain commitment. In the end, the stakeholder process significantly influenced the size, location and the type of AMI customer programs. ComEd’s filing with the ICC recommended a program of roughly 141,000 smart meters, deployed in the city of Chicago and 11 surrounding suburban communities.
Testing of the installed system, along with various scenarios and customer programs will take place through the spring, summer and fall of 2010. The results are expected to be reported back through the stakeholder community to the ICC in early 2011. To ensure that the stakeholder commitment continues, an interim meeting is planned for the spring of 2010.
Maryland: Smart-Grid Strategy
There is no area more important for collaborative decision-making than AMI and related smart-grid investments. By offering consumers a